There were two directions PSU could have gone with the line this spring.
One was to keep the returning nucleus of Stefen Wisniewski (center), Lou Eliades (right guard) and Johnnie Troutman/DeOn'tae Pannell (left guard) intact and find a couple of new tackles to replace the graduated talent there.
The other was to re-shuffle the deck, perhaps experiencing some growing pain but hopefully getting the five best linemen all at their ideal positions.
The staff went with Door No. 2, and in the scrimmage we saw the expected growing pains but also some good stuff.
On the day of the scrimmage, the first-team line featured natural center Doug Klopacz in the middle, Wisniewski back at right guard (where he played in 2008) and Eliades at right tackle (where he effectively subbed for the injured Dennis Landolt in the 2009 Rose Bowl).
If these changes stick, there is little doubt which way Penn State will be running the back in clutch situations next fall. The right side of the line ought to be very good.
Over on the left, however, there are all sorts of question marks. Pannell was with the first team at left guard and former guard Quinn Barham was handling the left tackle position. Word out of camp is that Barham has had a good spring. But can PSU really get the job done with a relatively inexperienced 6-foot-3, 290-pounder manning what is arguably the most important position on the line (especially considering the inexperience of the quarterbacks)?
Early in the scrimmage, the line had its hands full with the first-team defensive front. The offense managed a couple of first downs, but both were on improvised plays by quarterback Kevin Newsome -- one a dump-off pass to Curtis Drake, the other a scramble.
Later on the drive, the offense was given a first-and-5 when tackle Ollie Ogbu jumped offside. It tried three straight running plays, ending with Stephfon Green being thrown for a loss on fourth-and-1.
Near the end of the scrimmage, however, the offensive line came together against what was mostly the first-team defensive front. In a short-field series that started at the 30-yard line, bruising tailback Curtis Dukes went up the gut for seven yards. Then freshman Silas Redd took a handoff, and with Barham pulling he raced down to the 9-yard line.
Following an incomplete pass, Dukes took a handoff and ran through a giant hole up the middle for the score.
We suspect part of that success had to do with the fact that the defense did not seem to be entirely focused at the time -- head coach Joe Paterno laid into the unit following Dukes' first carry of the series.
But even so, it was a nice little victory for the offensive line.
So where was Troutman during all of this? Playing on the second team. Sources say he was busted down in part for being late for mandatory team breakfasts.
However this shakes out, the guys getting most of the playing time this year will come from a group that includes the five who were starting in the scrimmage, Troutman, backup center and former guard Matt Stankiewitch and tackle Mike Farrell.
Converted defensive tackle Chima Okoli is now at offensive tackle, but he plays extremely high and seems too rigid. He really has to work on his fundamentals before the staff can think about throwing him into a game situation.
Overall, I like the looks of the redshirt freshmen offensive linemen on the team, but the only one who seems as if he is ready to contribute in 2010 is guard John Urschel. Eric Shrive, Adam Gress and Nate Cadogan have great frames but must pack on more muscle before they are ready to make an impact.
We'll close with an extraneous note about the centers. When the quarterbacks and centers were warming up, Klopacz was with first-team QB Kevin Newsome, Stankiewitch was with second-teamer Matt McGloin and Pannell was with third-teamer Paul Jones.
File away that note on Pannell for future reference. Penn State has historically used shorter, stockier centers. But giving the 6-foot-5, 300-pound Pannell a look there could be a case of the staff considering going in a different direction.
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